Changes to Roadside Drug Testing in NZ – Oral Fluid Testing

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You may have noticed lots of discussion around random roadside drug testing in NZ on the news recently. Many of our patients who use medicinal cannabis have been asking us what this means to them and what may happen if they test positive. We understand that it may be nerve-racking if this situation arises, so we’ve put together some quick pointers to put your mind at ease.

Bill? What Bill?

After months of deliberations and readings, the NZ government finally passed the Land Transport (Drug Driving) Amendment Bill. This Bill establishes roadside drug testing in NZ whereby police can conduct random roadside oral fluid testing of drivers suspected of recent drug use and proposes that drivers who fail two consecutive saliva tests would incur fines.

This Bill is about to become law when our Governor-General signs the Bill later this year and will come into effect in 2023. But, what does it mean for those using medicinal cannabis? Can roadside oral fluid testing pick up medicinal cannabis? Will drivers with prescribed medicinal cannabis incur an infringement penalty if they fail the roadside drug test in NZ?

While the future change in law may cause some distress to those who rely on cannabis for medical reasons – rest assured, we’re here to help you every step of the way.

Why do we need more robust roadside drug testing in NZ?

Drug driving has always been a significant road safety concern on our roads. In 2020, there were 139 fatal crashes in NZ; of those, 101 people died when the driver was found driving under the influence of drugs.

Currently, New Zealand police test drivers through a compulsory impairment test (CIT). However, police need to have a ‘good cause to suspect’ the driver and the CIT can take up to 1.5 hours to complete. This dramatically reduces the efficiency of roadside drug testing and monitoring of drug-impaired drivers.

With the proposed oral fluid drug testing regime, police can test drivers for the presence of drugs anywhere, at any time, just as they can with an alcohol test. Unlike CIT or lab blood tests which usually take 24 hours, oral fluid test devices only take a few minutes to show results which will significantly improve the efficiency in deterring drug driving in New Zealand.

What substances show in an oral fluid drug test?

According to the Ministry of Transport, oral fluid testing can detect the use of THC, methamphetamine, benzodiazepines, MDMA, opiates and cocaine, usually within 30 minutes of ingestion. Medicinal cannabis products can contain THC, meaning patients are therefore likely to test positive in oral and blood roadside drug testing.

For patients who take CBD-only medicinal cannabis products, this shouldn’t test positive in an oral fluid drug test.

How long does it take for medicinal cannabis to leave my system?

There are numerous factors that can affect how long THC can stay in your body and be detected by oral fluid roadside testing. Some of these factors include the length of time that a person has been using medicinal cannabis, the drug dosage, physical genetics, body fat and metabolism. For people taking THC medicinal cannabis products regularly, traces of THC can remain in your body for up to 72 hours. While you may not feel impaired using a managed dose, please remember that it is illegal to drive while impaired, so depending on the type of medicinal cannabis product prescribed to you, driving may not be advised. 

Read more about How Long Does Cannabis Last in Your Body.

What happens if I fail a roadside test?

If you test positive for a qualifying drug (such as THC) at a roadside drug test, provided you are not impaired, a medical defence will be available if you:

  • Have a current legal prescription for the medicinal cannabis product
  • Have complied with the instructions from the prescriber or manufacturer of the product about driving, consuming alcohol or other prescription medicines while consuming the cannabis product.  

You can read more about the medicinal use of cannabis and impaired driving on the NZTA site.

How can I tell the police I have approved doctor’s prescriptions?

If you are taking medicinal cannabis with prescriptions from your GP or Cannabis Clinic doctor, we can provide our patients with a Medicinal Cannabis card, which has your ID and shows you’re a Cannabis Clinic patient. If you’re required to provide medical or legal evidence that your cannabis use is for medical reasons, we can also help gather the information and provide documents to the legal authority.

If you think medicinal cannabis might be the right treatment for you, book a consultation with one of our Cannabis Clinic specialist doctors. We’re here to support you on your journey to a better and healthy life.

Changes to Roadside Drug Testing in NZ - Oral Fluid Testing

Book an appointment today and get started on a better life!

Disclaimer – medicinal cannabis and CBD oil are unapproved medicines in NZ which means that there is no conclusive evidence for their effect, apart from Sativex. Many doctors do not routinely prescribe cannabis medicines. The above article was written for general educational purposes and does not intend to suggest that medicinal cannabis can be used to treat any health condition. Please consult with your healthcare provider. 

6 thoughts on “Changes to Roadside Drug Testing in NZ – Oral Fluid Testing

  1. Sara says:

    This article didn’t tell me anything. What do I do if I injected thc liquid the night before? Show them my prescription and comply? Please, tell me something I don’t know. Because I also take adhd medication and have zero guidance.

    • Cannabis Clinic says:

      Hi Sara, if you’re worried about taking THC and other medications, please give us a call on 0800 223 645 (0800 CBD OIL) so we can personalise our advice based on your medical conditions and prescriptions.

    • Cannabis Clinic says:

      Hi Craig, thanks for reaching out. To help our patients navigate the world while taking medicinal cannabis, we offer Cannabis Clinic Medicinal Cannabis Cards, providing you with identification and showing that you’re a patient under the Cannabis Clinic. You can apply for a Medicinal Cannabis Card here.

  2. Richard says:

    I have been taking medical cannabis for a year and used to smoke cannabis decades ago. So I know what it is like to be intoxicated and know from experience we don’t want intoxicated people driving. But here’s my question … Is it possible to feel even slightly intoxicated on medical THC? ie to the point of thinking “I shouldn’t be driving”? My experience is that even 10 drops wouldn’t impair me as much as 1 beer (and I’m not going to blow over the limit on 1 beer). I take CBD and THC (usually 2 drops of each twice daily) for improved sleep (with the side effect that I’ve gone from 3 drinks per day to almost never drinking which is awesome). But I’ve never understood the concern re medical THC and intoxication because in my experience intoxication on medical THC doesn’t occur.
    I’d be interested in other people’s experiences in this matter.

    • CJ Stoffberg says:

      Hi Richard, thank you for your question. Please give us a call on 0800 223 645 – our team will be able to answer any concerns you may have.

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